Facebook Vigilance.

I just posted this on Facebook. It should be shared everywhere.

Facebook has launched a colorful, yet fairly aggressive billboard/advertising campaign in Chicagoland. I’m thinking they’ve done the same elsewhere in the country. A few of things to remember:

  1. No matter how whimsical the ads might be, Facebook has not changed their profit model in any way. Your data is their product. You are not a customer or user of Facebook. You are used by Facebook. Always be cognizant of what you are posting on here.
  2. There is little in the way of curation when it comes to information posted on Facebook. Any “news” can be posted by anyone. It can be widely publicized, across “followers lines”, by anyone, foreign or domestic, for as little as $50 US dollars.
  3. Anything you type into Facebook, whether you post it or not, is logged through keystrokes. Hitting backspace to erase an entry does not erase that entry from Facebook’s servers.
  4. Any game you share is pulling data from the people you share the game with, whether they choose to participate or not.
  5. Any quiz you do is used for data gathering purposes. You might be telling Facebook that you’re a Valerie in Josie and the Pussycats, but they’ve figured out you’re the brainy one of your group, and they’ve figured out a whole lot more about you.
  6. When you tell the world where your first concert took place or who your third grade teacher was or whether you prefer the Ice Follies or the Ice Capades, you are giving Facebook and their customers more data to match up dissimilar data about you from multiple platforms.
  7. Any time you have Facebook on your mobile devices, you are taking Facebook with you. Admittedly, Apple devices are little better at guarding your privacy vs Android in this regard, but it’s Facebook that’s tracking where you are, who you’re talking to and who you’re flirting with on text message. Facebook on mobile is Facebook with you everywhere.
  8. Facebook is trying really hard to cross-index your data on Facebook with other sources, like public records, financial records, etc. Keep that in mind!

Facebook is a great way to connect with lost friends and distant family members, but please never forget: you are NOT the customer, you are the product. Never lose sight of that. Be safe, be vigilant, and be smart when using Facebook.

Spin.

Mark Zuckerberg, creator, founder and CEO of Facebook, has spent the past week apologizing and basically following a PR-spin script to deal with the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytics revelation around Facebook, user data, and the business model Facebook uses to please their stockholders. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, joined him on the interview circuit today, basically apologizing for not having better control of data mined from the profiles of Facebook users.

Amongst all these apologies and explanations, please note Facebook has chosen to exempt North American users from stricter privacy laws being implemented on services like Facebook in Europe.

One interesting thing that Sheryl mentioned during her interviews today is that users would have to pay a subscription fee to have the data they choose to share on Facebook not shared with advertisers. Yes! Please!

I still have not deleted my Facebook profile but I have ramped back my usage of the platform. A lot. My usage has dropped by nearly 90% over the past two weeks. The only reason I haven’t cancelled my account completely is because for many people in our friends and family circle, Facebook is the only way to maintain contact with them. They don’t really exchange email, there’s not really a lot going on in the way of iMessage or text messaging, and some groups and organizations I belong to have chosen to use ONLY Facebook as a way of communicating.

This is a very bad thing.

I have said this repeatedly but I will say it again. The vast majority of “free” services on the Internet are supported by ad revenue. A majority of those services make your data available in some fashion in order to target you with specific ads. I know, you’ll say that you have nothing to hide, but it’s not the data that you’re providing that makes this dangerous. It’s the ability for unrelated companies to independently gather data about you and then connect the dots when they find a common denominator, for example, your circle of friends, your spending habits, or your browsing habits.

In our elementary school years we were threatened from time to time that a bad decision would go down on our “permanent record”. Everything on the Internet is permanent. Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever.

Do you really want Facebook to be handling your “permanent record”?

I hate sounding cynical, but Mark and Sheryl are out there spinning these interviews so they can maintain a revenue stream and please their stockholders. Notice they’re not talking about changing the business model. Notice how dismissive they are about offering a subscription option. They don’t want that. They would lose some control of your data.

Controlling your data is what’s making them rich.

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Fast.

We now have AT&T “GigaPower” High-Speed Internet. I did a speed test this morning to make sure the install over the weekend went well.

I was quite impressed.

Visit Safely.

I making some changes to this ancient blog to deal with any potential privacy concerns when you visit to read my latest witty missive.

I have removed the “Share This” buttons from my blog posts. I don’t know what Twitter and Facebook were doing behind these buttons to track their usage (honestly I don’t have time to dig into that code right now), so I just removed the buttons altogether. I don’t know if folks were sharing my posts in this manner but now they will just have to copy and paste the link to a post in their own tweet.

None of my personal sites have advertising on them. I am not a fan of the ad supported model that runs rampant over the Internet. I don’t even like ads on my television shows. The ironic thing about that is I used to make a living writing ad copy for a group of radio stations. The more you know, I guess. Anyway, there’s nothing on this blog or any of my sites that generates revenue and I will continue to have it that way. To the best of my knowledge there’s nothing on my sites that tracks user data either. I need to look into the JetPack services from WordPress. If they’re tapping into user data, I will vanquish them from my site immediately.

From this point forward I will no longer embed YouTube videos into my posts. Google was tracking the who, what, and where when people watched these videos and I don’t like that, so when I post a video in the future it will be grabbed, stripped of its metadata and hosted on my own server. You should be able to watch a video without fear of being tracked.

I know this blog is goldfish swimming in this huge digital ocean, but I believe in practicing what you preach and I am not going to contribute to the degradation of user privacy on the Internet. It’s something that I strongly believe in and I will continue to advocate for user’s digital rights in any way that I can.

Privacy.

In January 2014 I started up a new Facebook account. It was on that date that I abandoned my original Facebook account, opened during the time that it required an .edu email address (I was in school to become a Civil Engineer at the time). I felt that the original account had filled up with too much crud and started fresh with this second account.

Today I downloaded a zip file of all the data Facebook has on me. It was a fairly small download, clocking in at just under 300 MB. Every photo, video, update, message, contact, thought… it’s all in that archive. Any and everything I shared with Facebook is in that zip file. Every time someone flirted with me over Facebook Messenger, every Russian bride wanna be that tried to get my attention, every game request, it’s all in there.

Downloading this data did not remove it from Facebook’s servers. It just gave me a copy of it.

I have been fortunate to have enjoyed online access of some sort since the GEnie service back in 1985. When I was in college (the first time) in 1986, I used to dial into GEnie and chat with other gay men scattered around the country. I remember the first time I saw an emoticon crawl across my Commodore 64. It took me a few moments to realize it was a sideways smiley face. 🙂 At 300 baud, it took a few moments for the smiley face to appear. A man that I was chatting with told me to never share anything on a computer that I wouldn’t mind sharing on the front page of the New York Times. He asked me my phone number. It was 1986, I gave him the number to the rotary phone on my dorm room wall. Two days later a card arrived in the mail. It wished me a Happy St. Patrick’s Day (it must have been 1987, now that I think about it) and it said, “I was able to find your name address from your phone number. Don’t share that information.”

I learned my lesson early.

Anything that I have shared online I would freely discuss in public. But it’s the stuff that I suspected Facebook was pulling from my data that I find alarming. Like every one of my work contacts appearing in the archive I downloaded today. When Facebook synced my contacts with my Facebook friends list to populate avatars in my list, it pulled all of my contacts down at the same time.

I have a record of every poke and every wave.

I’m happy that I use Apple products; Android users are finding that ALL of their messages and the meta data about their phone calls are ending up in their Facebook archives. Apple iOS sandboxes that information and makes it unavailable to third party applications.

There’s something to be said for paying more for Apple devices. Privacy and security are the drivers for me.

I have not deleted my Facebook profile but I have stopped using it. I’m letting it sit dormant for 30 days to see if I feel the same way at the end of April.

I’ll probably delete it then.

Relax.

An efficient use of today’s technology can help the traveler relax as he waits for a bus. This screen updates continuously based on GPS tracking of the bus. Disney definitely got this one right. Good job.

Data Exchange.

So “Pirates of the Caribbean” here at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom opened this week after being down for refurbishment. One of the changes to the attraction was the elimination of the “wench sale” and they replaced it with a pirate selling valuable things. The refurbishment looks good.

Many of the E-ticket attractions at Disney snap your photo at the perfect moment. As you exit the attraction there’s often monitors with photos of the folks that are exiting along with you. In the olden days you would then decide if you wanted to purchase the photo or not by visiting the gift shop. With today’s technology you tap your MagicBand or Photo Pass card and add the photo to your account. It is then available for purchase online. We purchased Disney’s “Memory Maker” package for this trip, so all of these photos, in addition to the photos taken by photographers around the parks, are available for download almost immediately.

We were surprised to see multiple flashes on “Pirates of the Caribbean” because we didn’t think there was a photo opportunity on the attraction. As we exited the ride there were no monitors showing photos, so we just moved on.

This photo showed up in our Photo Pass feed late last night.

As a data geek I find this interesting. First of all, no one in our family tapped anything to correlate the photo with our Photo Pass feed. There was no MagicBand or Photo Pass confirmation action associated with this photo. So Disney figured out it was our photo all on their own.

At first I thought this was done through Facial Recognition, but I’m feeling more comfortable with another theory I have; they used GeoFencing. The “My Disney Experience” app on my phone has location services on but only when I’m using the app, not in the background. So this means the RFID chip in our MagicBands have enough juice for long range sensors. A quick look at Wikipedia confirms that the newer bands indeed work this way.

In many ways this technology is very, very cool. I like it a lot and the whole data connectivity geek in me grooves on this. The only thing that gives me a bit of pause is that it links my face with my Disney activity. Not overly nefarious in itself but it could be used for evil purposes if this technology were to fall in the wrong hands.

I’ll have to read up on the Disney Terms of Service. If Disney is making this information available to outside parties it will make me think twice. If Disney is using it for only Disney services, I think it’s pretty nifty.

Spoiled.

“Alexa, turn on the counter lights!”

Nothing happens. I look up at the lights, just a moment away from wiggling my nose in an attempt to try to turn on the lights. “Alexa, turn on the kitchen counter lights!”

Not even a glimmer, nor a blink, nor a bit of smoke.

I then remember that these lights require the manual use of a light switch. How barbaric.

We have a lot of automation throughout the house. The majority of lights are controlled through if…then statements, Internet voodoo, and screaming repetitive commands at our Amazon Echos strategically placed throughout the condo. Fans turn on and off on their own. Lights blink when the Cubs win. Lamps change color when rain or lightning is detected within a certain radius of our neighborhood. Our fire alarm talks to us, our thermostat responds to our whims.

But flipping a switch to turn on the lamps hanging over the breakfast bar? Barbaric.

Ecobee is getting ready to release a wall switch that has Alexa (Amazon Echo) built into it. It has a motion sensor, a speaker and it also functions at a regular light switch. I think it would look über cool in the entryway to our kitchen.

It’s also a bit pricey at the moment.

Honestly, I’m debating as to whether to beg the budgeting department (my husband) for the money to buy the switch. The existing wall switch works just fine. It just requires manual effort.

When did I get so spoiled?

Focus.


I was recently chastised on Twitter for mentioning that I had “OCD tendencies”. I don’t remember the tweet that I was responding to at the time, oh, yes I do, it had to do with people still criticizing Apple for “the notch” in the iPhone X. I said that if I could survive using an iPhone X 18 hours a day with the notch not bothering my “OCD tendencies” then it must not be a big deal.

The criticism was you either have OCD or you don’t, it’s like being partly pregnant and you can’t do OCD part way. Well excuse me for living.

I didn’t bother replying to the criticism about my choice of words surrounding OCD because it wasn’t really worth my time and the exercise would have been futile. I’ve never been clinically labeled with OCD but I can tell you this:

  1. I will always straighten a crooked picture
  2. I will always eat my meals by eating one food at a time, even deconstruction a meatball sub by eating the cheese first, eating all the meatballs, then eating the bread. I do the same thing with salads, eating all the cucumbers first, the tomatoes next and so on
  3. I have a bad habit of correcting people during a conversation, for example, when they say “I could care less” (because it’s “I couldN’T care less”). I know, it’s rude of me
  4. Road signs with off-center legend makes me crazy
  5. This list could go on and on but you get the picture

My productivity practices, which include both my personal and professional lives, involve using a very specific way of me keeping my “to do” list organized. Because of my love for Apple products, I have always used macOS and iOS based software to manage all of my thoughts and subsequent Task Lists, namely using the software OmniFocus. I’ve used OmniFocus for many years. When work took away all the Macs and told us we had to use a Windows laptop to stay in compliance with company IT practices, I lost my ability to access OmniFocus on my work computer. This change in policy took effective October 1, 2017, and since then my focus has been less than stellar because I’ve been trying to find a way to compensate with some sort of “cross-platform” approach. The “OCD-like” side of me is bothered by the fact that I can no longer access the same list from all of my devices. I’ve tried a number of solutions to no avail:

  1. Google Keep (which makes me crazy because I’m feeding Google’s ad habits) is blocked at work
  2. I tried writing things down on paper but I don’t walk around with a notebook with me at all times, so when I had an idea I would type it into Notes on my iPhone but then have to remember to add it to the “official” written Task List
  3. I tried keeping lists in OneNote, the company sanctioned software, but the less-than-stellar quality of Microsoft’s software resulted in syncing issues, forgetting my credentials for my work account, and lost information
  4. I tried maintaining a plain-text file using ToDo.txt on Dropbox, which would have been available throughout all of my devices, until work blocked Dropbox because we are allowed to use only Microsoft’s OneDrive for “cloud storage”

I’ve ended up firing up my work Mac, which I still have in my possession with a claim that I need backup in case my Windows laptop dies. As a remote employee I always need a backup plan. This is working fairly well except that it’s bothering me to have two different laptops sitting on my desk. The Mac isn’t allowed to officially talk to the work network anymore, but it does work with the Office 365 connection so I can get to email and push things from my email into OmniFocus, but the solution is less than perfect.

Less than perfect bothers me.

My need for perfection, an “OCD-like” tendency of mine, is breaking my focus on getting my work done and making me focus on how I need to get my work done. Not having one bucket at my disposal anywhere I need to have it is distracting me. It takes my headphones and a well designed app called “Focus@Will” to help me find my productive center again and get back to writing code and leading my team.

I think I’ve found a solution with the Mac sitting next to my work-sanctioned Windows laptop and I’m going to have to keep swiveling my chair back and forth as needs arise.

It’s not perfect, and I’ll probably continue to tweak my process, but it’s probably the closest I’ll come to getting back to my productivity nirvana.